First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Tuesday 7 July 1992


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. ROY HUGHES

Baker, Mr. Nicholas (Dorset, North)

Campbell, Mrs. Anne (Cambridge)

Darling, Mr. Alistair (Edinburgh, Central)

Eagle, Ms. Angela (Wallasey)

Lloyd, Mr. Peter (Minister of State, Home Office)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sunderland)

Michie, Mr. Bill (Sheffield, Heeley)

Pickthall, Mr. Colin (Lancashire, West)

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget (Lewisham, East)

Roe, Mrs. Mairion (Broxbourne)

Shaw, Mr. David (Dover)

Shepherd, Mr. Richard (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Thomason, Mr. Roy (Bromsgrove)

Thurnham, Mr. Peter (Bolton, North-East)

Turner, Mr. Dennis (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)

Wilshire, Mr. David (Spelthorne)

Mr. R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk

3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 7 July 1992

[MR ROY HUGHES in the Chair]


10.30 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Summer Time Order 1992. The purpose of the order is simple and, I hope, uncontroversial. It continues for a further two years—1993 and 1994 inclusive—the existing arrangements for the starting and end dates of summmer time. As in previous years, summer time will start at 1 am Greenwich mean time on the last Sunday in March and end at 1 am GMT on the Saturday after the fourth Saturday in October. Summer time will therfore run from 28 March to 24 October 1993 and from 27 March to 23 October 1994. I am sure that some hon. Members will have observations to make and questions to ask and I shall be glad to respond to them.

10.31 am

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central): I think that I would prefer to hold my fire.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley): While I do not want to be controversial—I have never said anything controversial in my life—I want to know the reasons for changing the dates each year: Is there a mysterious reason for that because it is totally beyond me why the timing should be a week out in the first year and delayed yet another week the year after?

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North): I can remember when summer time was introduced during the war. It is one of our idiosyncrasies that we love to deal with unrealities, such as tampering with the clock by moving it forwards and backwards. Will the Minister tell the Committee what will happen in future? Frankly, we should keep to Greenwich mean time and not move the clocks on and back every year. What happens in other European Community countries and in other parts of the world? Will we have this movement of time in perpetuity or will it continue for only 10 years? We have had summer time changes for too long. We are now changing the clocks for 1993 and 1994 and I assume that that arrangement will continue until well beyond the year 2000.

10.33 am

Mr. David Shaw (Dover): I should like the Minister to consider the position of industries such as building and fanning, which are concerned at the way in which summer time operates. My constituency is the nearest to the EC and the continent and we do not always find ourselves at one with other EC countries. It would assist my constituents in many of their day-to-day dealings if there were a common 4 time with the EC. They would welcome such a tie up with Europe. I do not always expect to say that but this is one instance where that would be appropriate. Can the Minister say whether it is his Department's intention to review the position in the next few years to find out whether we should continue with the current arrangements.

10.34 am

Mr. Darling: The order simply continues the present arrangements where the United Kingdom enjoys two different times from the rest of the EC. The order is relatively uncontroversial and I do not suppose that moving the time change forward or back by one week will cause great difficulty. However, the Committee and people outside it will want to know the Government's future intentions. From previous orders, I notice that the Government have sometimes continued the summer time arrangement for one year, other times for two years. The Government are probably asking the Committee to approve the two-year extension because they are not yet clear about their future plans. Members of the previous Parliament will remember that the issue caused controversy two years ago when the Government were of a mind to abolish British summer time and move to standard European time. A draft directive was promoted by the European Commission, which would have imposed the same time across Europe. I recall a number of arguments were adduced in support of that view. Some said that it would be better for trade if we all operated at the same time. However, we manage to trade with the United States, which has five different time zones, and with Japan, which could never be brought into the same time zone as ourselves for obvious reasons. It was said that standard time would be good for holiday makers. I understand that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has constituents who travel across the channel for their duty free who want to know what time they will arrive, so that the door will not be slammed in their faces. That is, however, a minor consideration. The change was also said to be advantageous for safety reasons. I disagreed with some of the arguments behind that view, but the case is statable. The Government—and certainly Lord Waddington, then Home Secretary and the most northerly-based Home Secretary in recent memory—were aware of the problems facing those living to the north and the west of a line from the Wash, the river Avon and the river Tyne. If we were to abolish British summer time, it would get progressively darker in winter mornings. People living in the Northern Isles and the Western Isles might be at a severe disadvantage because of those dark mornings. A move to standard European time would make sense for many people living in the south and east, but it would pose problems for those living further north and west. I do not want to pursue those arguments in detail as it would be inappropriate. However, the Minister should tell the Committee what the Government have in mind. The European Commission is proposing further directives, which would oblige us to move to standard European time, so the subject will have to be considered by the whole country. That is why it is so important for the Government to clarify their intentions. If we are to have change, all the options open to us must be canvassed. 5 It was suggested in previous debates on the subject that different time zones within the United Kingdom would be madness. The Scottish National party, which is not represented in this Committee, adopted a daft idea: that Scotland should be in a different time zone from the rest of the United Kingdom. Such nonsense would place Scotland at a great disadvantage. Whatever the merits of other constitutional changes, the United Kingdom should have the same time zone for sound economic reasons. Will the Minister tell us the Government's plans? I hope that he will not say that the Government are merely considering the matter. I cannot believe that they can still be considering it after four years. Future debates on the subject will be on the Floor of the House rather than Upstairs, and it would be most helpful for the Government to provide a preliminary view of what will happen on the road to a permanent solution—if indeed that is desirable. If the system is not causing too much trouble, much can be said for not tinkering with it.

10.39 am

Mr. Peter Thurnam (Bolton, North-East): I have had representations from constituents that summer time should be extended for three reasons. First, road accidents involving children increase when summer time ends. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) also mentioned safety. Can my hon. Friend the Minister say whether statistics prove that, as there have been two conflicting arguments about that? Secondly, electricity consumption rises immediately summer time ends, so there would be economies on energy and environmental grounds if summer time ran a little longer. Thirdly, I have also had representations from Butlin's about its holiday season, which ends immediately summer time ends. Perhaps we could consider allowing summer time to run for a wee bit longer if that helped people to have their holiday a little later in the year.

10.40 am

Mr. Peter Lloyd: I will take each point in turn. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) wondered why the beginning and end of summer time was a little different each year—popping back and forward a week, depending on how one looks at it. It is for the same reason as the hon. Gentleman's birthday comes a day later in the week each year. As the change is due to be made on a Sunday for everyone's convenience, then, to achieve that, there will be such variations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) did not want "any of this nonsense" of changing the clock, as he thinks that it is all rather arbitrary. When Greenwich mean time was introduced it was a rather arbitrary imposition on the various calculations of time that were made in this country. The changes to GMT were introduced in the first world war. My hon. Friend wishes to revert to pre-1916. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the reason additions to GMT have been retained since then is that a large part of the population found that convenient, and as we have heard from other hon. Members, some even want to take the changes considerably further. My hon. Friend asked what is going to happen. I will save that answer to the end because the question was asked of me by several hon. Members and it seems the more sensible point on which to end. 6 My hon. Friend the Member for Dover pointed out the convenience of moving to the same time as the continent— central European time. We have an overlap with the continent in October. If we did move the end date, that one month of harmony would disappear and, although that might please my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East, it would cause distress to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover. My hon. Friend for Bolton, North-East asked about statistics. I should probably exceed the scope of the order if I dwelt upon that subject. Statistics do indeed suggest that an extension of summer time, or the adoption of central European time, would have a beneficial net effect on road accidents, and there is a suggestion that there would be a saving of fuel. Those arguments are statistically based, and although they are disputed by others, such is the weight of informed statistical opinion. For some, safety is the decisive factor in the total argument, for others it is far from decisive. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central spoke of the inconvenience for Scotland of moving to central European time. We consulted about doing that three years ago, after which we issued our conclusions in a Green Paper. They showed, as do the speeches in Committee, how different were the opinions held, depending on which business or industry people worked for or in which part of the United Kingdom they lived. The overwhelming response to the Green Paper in England and Wales was that there should be a move to central European time. The not quite so overwhelming response, but overwhelming nevertheless, in Scotland was to retain the status quo.

Mr. Darling: In fairness to the Committee, I should point out that the consultation exercise did not canvass popular opinion but various interest groups, which represented industries in part or all of the United Kingdom. It would be wrong to give the impression that the populous were consulted.

Mr. Peter Lloyd: I accept that entirely. The populous could have responded to the Green Paper, but as in the normal way, they did not. Responses came largely from interest groups, industrial or commercial concerns and lobbying bodies, which secured signatories to petitions. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central that as a test of popular opinion the consultation exercise was lacking. However, as a test of the arguments of the interest groups, it was a valuable exercise. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Government's intentions. The Government conducted the consultation because the Commission seemed to be about to impose greater uniformity. It seemed to be wise to carry out the consultations before the Commission's plans became well-developed. In the end, the sixth directive emerged, which will leave matters as they are for the next two years. Hence the need for the order. It is likely that the Commission will, in the coming year, reconsider the future of summer time. We shall press the Commission to inform us of its approach and of the factors that it will take into account, which will enable us to respond effectively. There is some criticism of central 7 European time on the continent. We should not advise the House either to keep the present arrangements or to change them until we know what is happening in Europe. Under the treaty of Rome, at least part of the new arrangement could be imposed upon us. However, thus far the Commission has shown no sign of seeking to require us to adjust our clocks to those on the continent. It appears to be considering whether there should be common start and end dates to whatever arrangements are made. The House should not reach a decision until the Commission's approach is clear, at which point, and within those 8 parameters, the Government will form their view. There will then be a debate in the House and we shall, perhaps, reach a decision. I cannot say more than that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Summer Time Order 1992.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Hughes, Mr. Roy (Chairman)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas

Darling, Mr.

Eagle, Ms.

Lloyd, Mr. Peter

Michie, Mr. Bill

Pickthall, Mr.

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget

Roe, Mrs.

Shaw, Mr. David

Shepherd, Mr. Richard

Skeet, Sir T.

Thomason, Mr.

Thurnham, Mr.

Turner, Mr.

Viggers, Mr.